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Will government help hurt electric cars like the Chevy Volt?

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The Chevy Volt will go no more than 40 miles without recharging. A separate gas engine extends the range considerably further, albeit by burning gasoline.

The Nissan Leaf, meanwhile, has a range of only about 100 miles and no gas engine. The Volt carries a sticker price of $41,000; the Leaf costs $33,000.

Even with a generous $7,500 federal tax credit, these prices are out of reach for most consumers. And their limited ranges make them impractical for all except residents of densely populated urban areas who typically drive very short distances. There are always early adopters of the latest technologies, but to go mainstream, these cars must make vast improvements in battery technology – a point even Ford President Alan Mulallay acknowledges.

This challenge should not phase us; many of our most popular products, especially PCs, were introduced in exactly the same way and quickly evolved into the economic mainstream. Somewhere out there, in the proverbial garage, an inventor is working away to solve the problem – or is there?

There’s the rub: Circumstances surrounding electric cars are quite different from those that “fueled” the growth of the PC.

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